The Importance of a Clean Workspace

Take a look at your desk right now. Is it clean and organized? Or are you having trouble seeing the surface? Flat surfaces are magnets for collecting junk and desks may be the worst of all. Papers, sticky notes, receipts, and badges from old conferences were common sights on my desk in the past. As long as I could move the mouse and see my keyboard, I told myself that organization and cleaning could wait until I was done with more important tasks. But somehow there were always more important tasks, and gradually the clutter would build up, until it was literally falling off the desk and spreading to other parts of the room.

What I didn’t realize is how the clutter was impacting the rest of my work. The mere presence of disorganization was adding tiny amounts of stress to my day, slowing down those more important tasks, and increasing moments of frustration. If I can’t organize my desk, how can I organize this project? Where is that pen that I just set down? How did it get underneath this box? Why is there even an empty box on my desk? A clean desk will go miles toward reducing the stress around you.

I’ve found that keeping the mundane things organized helps build strong habits that carry over into more important areas of your life. Sure, organizing bills may seem boring and a waste of time, but those same habits will show up when organizing a large project at work. Your brain likes to create and recognize patterns and build memorization, the foundations of good organization. Use these skills on the small things to develop them so they can be used on the big things. The converse may also be true, that failure to learn to organize the small things may make it more difficult to handle the larger important ones.

Not only does a clean desk remove some stress, but it is an easy way to get a small win for a day. Starting the day with an accomplishment, even if a small one, can give feelings of success that drive confidence for the rest of the day. Often we work on important tasks that take longer to see success with many failures on the way, and doing the small things well is a way to ensure something went well that day, even if everything else feels like a slump.

Here’s some tips that have helped me in my quest to a clean workspace:

Use a small desk

I admit I really love large desks. I don’t like being cramped and a large desk gives me space to spread out. But in reality, that extra space is just more space for junk to pile up. When your desk area is small, there literally isn’t room for junk, and so you are forced to clean it up as you go, rather than push it off to the side of the desk for later. I’ve also found that a smaller work area promotes a strong focus – you can only have so many things around you, meaning only so many things that can grab your attention.

Eliminate the excess

Along the same theme of avoiding distractions, I realized I had a lot of desk “accessories” that were completely unnecessary. Rulers, hole punches, staplers – things that would fit in 20 years ago now collect dust in my drawers. Eliminating these will reduce the clutter that makes things disorganized. Suggestion: Take all of your desk items and put them in a box in another room. For the next few weeks, go and grab any item that you need. After a month or so, consider tossing anything that wasn’t used. Bonus – getting a smaller desk will force this one as well.

Create a physical inbox

Incoming mail is a large contributor to the junk on my desk. Every afternoon, a stack of letters makes its way into my office and since I usually don’t want to go through it right then, it becomes another pile on the desk. In the digital world, many of us have an inbox for email, tasks, and other items. Do the same for the physical mail – get a simple box or folder to put all new mail like bills, invitations, etc. Then, set a time to clear the inbox. Depending on how much mail you accumulate, this could be once a day or once a week.

No doubt, keeping a clean workspace is an ongoing battle that must be defended against the clutter of life, but the benefits are well worth it, even if not obvious at first. You’ll appreciate the cleanliness more than you think – give it a try.